The illusion of choice: The sorrows of being an international student that no one talks about

Nevena Vračar Columns, Opinions Leave a Comment

Being an international student has a certain appeal due to the array of possibilities, the broad perspective it offers, and the infinite choices you are free to make once you move. You take your life into your own hands, you choose a different experience that you think is somehow better than what you had at home.

“You will grow up much faster abroad than if you would have stayed at home”

To some extent that is true,  it is a powerful feeling reaching the top and succeeding in an unfamiliar environment. Even before you get there, you will go through all the anticipated struggles, and you may grow up much faster than the people who stayed at home. In any case, you will grow up much faster abroad than if you would have stayed at home. You will be tougher, thicker-skinned, braver, and smarter than any other you could have been.

But unfortunately, even if you make all the right choices, you cannot control the outcomes. What life hands you tends to appear only at a certain point in space and time; where and how you’ll come across the things that will make you happy is not up to you. By expanding your horizons, you also face the inconvenience of distance, even if you are not fully aware of it at first. When you step off that plane back home, you come back to see your old friends and family, but everything that happens does not seem to affect what you would call your “real life.” Everything that happens at home stays in a separate universe; it makes you feel amazing every time you touch it, and it burns every time you have to leave home, again. I have seen this particular happen to other people and taking a part of other people’s wellbeing, but I never thought it would take a part of mine too.

The fact is, at some point, all this reminiscence when being at home turns into idealization, and you think,  “What an amazing person I would be if I just stayed!” Indeed, you would have it all if you stayed: the ease of being on your own turf and the comfort of having everyone you love in the same place. In your darkest hours, you might start comparing the two lives you are living: the one at home and the one abroad. Then, it seems as though you are committed to a life in another city where nothing ever seems to go your way and nothing can be done by the rules you are used to. No room nor apartment can be called home, your wallet seems to have a hole in it and somehow, your life always fits in a suitcase.

“Regression is somehow always more appealing than progress”

Of course, none of this is true; who you are now, and how easy you think life back home was, stems solely from the fact that now you have to build your life up from scratch and above all your responsibilities as a student. The memories of our past life have a tendency to be rosier than they actually were, and regression is somehow always more appealing than progress.

But what happens when your new life only seems to give you lemons, and the memory of home becomes rosier? When the image of someone from home ingrains itself in your mind, more flawless than ever? What happens when your life hands you someone new, someone that does not do anything for you, but you can’t seem to shake them off? And when a person who would rearrange the stars for you is going even further away?

I left someone like that at home, and it took all the courage I could muster to return back to my “real life.” Sadly, no matter how much you kick and scream, life seems to insist on following its own course. And that, my friends, is the illusion of choice. As rational your choices may be, as good they ultimately might be for you, and regardless of how focused you might be on giving yourself the best and broadest experience life has to offer, you will never get to choose the things in life that give you that almost-fainting, light-headed feeling. You can only hope that they come from a place that will not tear you apart.

 

 

Nevena Vracar is a Bachelor student in Sociology at the University of Amsterdam.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Amsterdammer.

  • Columnist (Spring 2018)

Hi there! My name is Nevena and I am a 22-year-old student currently in the second year of a sociology bachelor at the University of Amsterdam. I come from Belgrade, Serbia and I’ve moved here about three years ago. I am a part of the opinion section of the Amsterdammer and my columns focus mostly on my experience as an international and studying abroad.

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